In Summary

  • Former Victorian Chief Justice Marilyn Warren opens Swinburne’s Legal Year
  • Professor Warren says lawyers need to show courage in their careers
  • She says some criticism of the judiciary is “misconceived or ill-founded”

Former Victorian Chief Justice, the Honourable Professor Marilyn Warren AC QC, has urged Swinburne law students to show courage in their profession in a wide-ranging speech on the role of lawyers in today’s society.

Professor Warren, who stood down last year after 14-years as Victoria’s first female Chief Justice, was opening the Swinburne Legal Year. She said lawyers needed courage as well as intellectual rigour, stamina and determination to do their job.

She warned that lawyers often had to work in the face of intense criticism and often under attack from opponents and sometimes governments of the day.

She said Victorian legal history was replete with examples of lawyers and judges who had put their careers and sometimes safety on the line to help protect the rights of the individual.

“A common thread appears with these individuals who were called upon to demonstrate not only great intellectual, tactical and strategic skills as advocates but the courage to take on the unpopular or controversial cause; and sometimes in the face of mountainous public opposition and even criticism of the government of the day,” she told the lecture.

“Lawyers throughout their professional lives, young and old, face intellectual challenges.

“The law presents opportunities that not only call for courage but also intellectual rigour combined with stamina and determination.”

In the speech, Professor Warren, who was well known for her defence of the judiciary during her time as the State’s highest judge, continued to support judges against attack saying some recent political criticisms were “misconceived or ill-founded”.

“There are moments when as a lawyer and as a judge courage is called for in the face of trenchant criticism,” Professor Warren said.

“Judges these days face it constantly, particularly through modern communications.

“The community is far better educated and informed about what goes on in the courts than, say, even 20 years ago.

“For that reason, it is not unusual to find politicians expressing views about judicial decisions and actions and on occasion expressing dissatisfaction.

“This calls for courage and intellectual application by judges particularly when the judges are unable to answer misconceived or ill-founded criticism.”

For the first time since leaving the bench, Professor Warren also touched on last year’s extraordinary attack on the Victorian judiciary by three Federal government senior ministers.

Professor Warren was a member of the bench that threatened the three ministers with contempt of court for claiming the Victorian bench was advocating for lighter sentences for terrorists.

The three ministers were forced to apologise to the court and narrowly avoided contempt of court proceedings.

Professor Warren urged the law students to watch the video of the proceeding and to take note of the submissions by the defence barristers on the issue.

Professor Warren said she expected there to be a lot of interest in the market on the Swinburne law students, with the first graduates about to hit the market.

“I anticipate there will be a lot of interest and curiously about the new group,” she said.

“Why is this so? I think … the Swinburne students have set about making themselves different because they stand out in the market place.

“And in my view, that is the key.

“Make yourself different, stand out from the crowd. Swinburne has done this in a number of ways.”